Television, where for art thou?

Has the internet ruined television forever? Possibly. Maybe it’s just me, or perhaps you might glean something familiar sounding from this early Saturday morning rant.

I am a fan of TV. I grew up in the 80s, where we had all kinds of stuff to be excited about. Or maybe just because it was a little of a national ritual to settle down to the latest episode of this or that. Some of the earliest memories of TV that I have is that no matter how loud the TV is at 6pm, it always gets turned up just a little bit more ‘for the news’.

Where did my love affair with television go?

Star Trek on Sunday late mornings. I grew up watching the original screenings, I believe. Then later, Friday night screenings of The Next Generation. Deep Space Nine. The regular thing that was the Sunday Horrors. Were they even called that officially, or what that a thing that we collectively as a country came up with?

I can’t say that television of that period was any better (I’ve just skipped through the 80s and 90s local TV in one paragraph), there was a whole lot of crap back then. I guess I just don’t remember a more putrid time for television than now. I think I should be leveling my anger at TVNZ (and I have at the past, and even contacted them), but I guess in general it will just be television in general that gets it in the neck.

And here I come to my point. Flash Forward.

Oh I had such high hopes for you. Finally a series that didn’t look as if it was pulled off the air after one screening in the States. Not that anything like that would stop us, I’m looking at you TVNZ, picking over the dead body of US television programming. But I guess I’m also looking at the US state of things, that would kill a series that quickly. That surely means writers are going to change their styles to a quick paced, flashy, flash-over-substance style, to keep the viewers.

Flash Forward kept my attention for the full episode. It was slick. Well written. It reminded me of Japanese anime, where the first episode is always by the book. Introduce the hero. Show the situation. Have the huge cliffhanger at the end of the first ep. Second ep, everything gets moving at a normal pace. The first episode always feels weird because of it.

Then the weeks dragged … now I hear that Flash Forward is something you should stick with. There’s a few reasons I might be getting jaded. Let me list them for you;

1. Big mystery television. There’s one answer, and we can’t tell you, because if we do, the series is over. Thanks Lost. I know good fiction is driven by this, but there’s only so much dancing around the point before we wonder ‘why do we care again?’. See Twin Peaks on how to do this right. Because it was never about who killed Laura Palmer.

2. TVNZ. Used to be you watched the program and you waited with bated breath until next week. I love that ‘tune in next time’ mentality. I grew up on it. TVNZ introduced the ‘encore performance’. In Flash Forwards case they have rather spoilt things. Not only can you ‘catch up on what you missed’ via TVNZ on Demand, by in the case of Flash Forward, they’re almost screening every episode three times a week.

3. The internet. The mentality that we can get anything we want in merely a moment does sort of ruin our attention spans. Why wait until next week? Why wait for the whole season to start with (why wait until TVNZ finally gets around to buying up the rights to play it next season). I have to admit that from one episode to the next of Flash Forward I’ve found myself thinking ‘hmmm, now what was happening again?’. That was a week ago.

Actually I rather figure that it’s all a rather vicious circle. But is the net to blame? TV sucks because the stuff that gets put on it sucks. Why? Because it’s formulaic? Why? Because we can only risk giving a chance to things we know will sell. Are they giving us what we want? Or what makes business sense. Again, is that because of the internet?

The end result is still the same. This week I’m working late night Wednesday. I won’t see Flash Forward. I almost don’t care. And no, I don’t know if I’ll bother watching an encore, or ‘catch up on what I missed’ online.

Curious that we get all this crap in prime time, and countless series which are known to have done well in the States end up in deadend slots. Deadwood never made it to mainstream NZ television, showing instead on Prime. The Wire, arguably one of the best programs to come out of the US since the Soprano’s languished at 11pm on a Friday. Pushing Daisies ended up Monday 9:30pm, and the second season didn’t even get advertising.

Kudos to TVNZ for finally showing Blade: The Series (even if it does nix out the Sunday Horrors timeslot, it’s well worth watching despite how it could never match the movie budgets). No kudos to Spike TV for canceling it after one season, citing that it didn’t pull enough of a female audience. Hey guys. You’re a guy station, and it’s a guy program!

I shall end this long rant by wondering where Caprica is, and thinking that it will probably end up on C4, because TVNZ would never risk showing something other than Desperate Housewives, or E.R. (THE FINAL SEASON, can they emphase that enough?) on a mainstream station. Having said that, they relegated Ugly Betty to Sunday 5:30pm.

The soap box, my dear reader, is all yours …

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